THE LIKENESS by Tana French

Irish novelist Tana French’s second novel begins…

TheLikenessTanaFrench“Some nights, if I’m sleeping on my own, I still dream about Whitethorn House. In the dream it’s always spring, cool fine light with a late afternoon haze. I climb the worn stone steps and knock on the door–that great brass knocker, going black with age and heavy enough to startle you every time–and an old woman with an apron and a deft, uncompromising face lets me in. Then she hangs the big rusted key back on her belt and walks away down the drive, under the falling cherry blossom, and I close the door behind her.

The house is always empty. The bedrooms are bare and bright, only my footsteps echoing off the floorboards, circling up through the sun and the dust motes to the high ceilings. Smell of wild hyacinths, drifting through the wide-open windows, and of beeswax polish. Chips of white paint flaking off the window sashes and a tendril of ivy swaying in over the sill. Wood doves, lazy somewhere outside.

In the sitting room the piano is open, wood glowing chestnut and almost too bright to look at in the bars of sun, the breeze stirring the yellowed sheet music like a finger. The table is laid ready for us, five settings–the bone-china plates and the long-stemmed wineglasses, fresh-cut honeysuckle trailing from a crystal bowl–but the silverware has gone dim with tarnish and the heavy damask napkins are filled with dust…

Somewhere in the house, faint as a fingernail-flick at the edge of my hearing, there are sounds: a scuffle, whispers. It almost stops my heart. The others aren’t gone, I got it all wrong somehow. They’re only hiding; they’re still here, for ever and ever.”

Book Details:

author: Tana French (learn more at her website)
original language: English
publication date (UK): 2008

Contributor Details:

Jane is a retired accountant and one-time used bookseller with a particular fondness for Irish crime and mystery novels who now lives in Florida. She is known around the book-ish parts of the internet as Janebbooks; you can refer to her Good Reads profile for her reviews and reading list.



TheEarthHumsInBFlatTHE EARTH HUMS IN B FLAT is definitely not a typical crime novel. Its fey slightly unwordly pre-teen heroine and narrator is Gwenni, a 12-year-old living in modest circumstances in a Welsh village in the late 50s. She lives with her Mam, Taid and older sister Bethan (with whom she shares a bed). Welsh is the dominant language (apart from at school) and chapel and aspirations towards respectability dominate. Gwenni is unusual: she believes she can fly over the village by night, and that there are faces in the wallpaper that talk to her when she goes to the pantry. However she finds that her unique take on the world is not universally appreciated. Her Mam is keen to discourage any overt demonstrations of Gwenni’s “oddness”, such as discussions of flying, fearing village gossip, and her best friend, the rather more wordly Alwenna, is starting to be more interested in boys than in participating in hair-brained schemes.

When local shepherd, Ifan Evans, disappears, Gwenni is determined to track him down, emulating the detectives such as Albert Campion in the books passed to her by her Aunt Lol. Gwenni believes that finding Mr Evans will prevent Mrs Evans and the children being thrown out of their house and starving and becoming ill. The former fear (loss of the house) turning out to be not that unrealistic. Although Gwenni was in the Evans’s house to babysit the morning of his appearance, it takes her some time to realise how much she knows about what really happened. The disappearance of Ifan Evans has a ripple effect throughout the community, not least in Gwenni’s own family. Her straight-laced mam goes into a downward spiral after the disappearance; she has more and more overt trouble with her nerves, starting to pop ever more pills prescribed by the local GP. Her anger at Gwenni’s “oddness” becomes even more vehement. When Bethan’s class start to study basic genetics and eye colour, long hidden family secrets start to surface.

THE EARTH HUMS IN B FLAT is a touching, atmospheric novel. Gwenni is an intriguing, offbeat and at times slightly irritating heroine. Just as interesting is the gradual unravelling of Mam, whose repetitive refrains about needing beauty sleep and avoiding becoming the subject of village gossip start to take on an ever more brittle quality, as her anger and frustration (the brunt of which is mostly borne by Gwenni) grow. The minor characters are drawn skilfully. The author shows the incipient snobbery and tension between classes with a dry humour; Mam looks down on Alwenna and her gossipy mother, whilst the wealthier Welsh and English families in their turn look down on the villagers. Mari Strachan neatly conveys the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small Welsh village, and in a manner almost reminiscent of a Greek tragedy, the damage that can be wrought by long kept secrets and lies in family life, both in Gwenni’s family and the Evans family. This is quite simply a marvellous book, that defies simple categorisation, touching on mystery, madness, growing up, and the lies and ties that bind.

This review was first published at Euro Crime in July 2010 (reproduced with the permission of the site owner)

Book Details:

author: Mari Strachan (learn more at the author’s website)
original language: English
publication date (UK): 2009

Contributor Details:

Laura Root submitted this as one of her favourite novels, you can read more of Laura’s reviews at Euro Crime

VOICES by Arnaldur Indriðason

The administrators of Petrona Remembered decided to commence the site’s homages to great crime fiction by reproducing one of Maxine Clarke’s own reviews. While she read diversely across the genre it seemed appropriate to us that at least on this first occasion we share Maxine’s thoughts on one of the Scandinavian authors she loved so much.

VoicesVOICES, the third book by Arnaldur Indridason to be translated into English, is even better than the first two, and that’s saying something, as SILENCE OF THE GRAVE, the previous outing for Inspector Erlendur, deservedly won last year’s CWA Gold Dagger. Each book covers a narrower canvas than the previous one, but reveals and explores more of Erlendur’s psyche. This increasing depth and focus is, for me, what makes this crime-fiction series among the most excellent I have read.

The doorman at a Reykjavik hotel is murdered in his basement room on-site, wearing his “part-time Santa Claus” outfit, just before Christmas. Erlendur and his team investigate the death of this long-term employee, whom his colleagues neither noticed nor liked, against the disapproval and even hostility of the hotel staff. Erlendur suffers a kind of seasonal paralysis, and rather than return to his empty, dingy flat at the end of the first day of the investigation, impulsively takes a room at the hotel – more to spite the manager than anything else. It isn’t a nice room and the heating doesn’t work, but it forms the nucleus for the story over the few days that follow, as Erlendur observes and absorbs the “voices” and rhythms of the hotel, and has to try to explain to various colleagues and his daughter why he isn’t “home for Christmas”, even though he is not fully aware of his reasons.

As Erlendur discovers more about the victim and the sad life he led, the title of the book becomes apparent. The “voice” of the victim, all-powerful as a child, has gradually diminished over the years until nobody knew or cared about the man he had become; his voice has, literally, disappeared. Simultaneously, Erlendur sinks into an introspective mood, triggered by the long-ago events and family dynamics he uncovers in the murder investigation. Driven by a hopeless urge to find a way to relate to Eva Lind, his tragic daughter, to prevent her falling back into her old life, he struggles to connect with the voices of his own past. Both for his daughter and for his hopes of a new relationship after his disastrous marriage and subsequent years of solitude, Erlendur is forced to relive a childhood tragedy, and acknowledge its effects on himself and his parents.

Another “voice” is that of a badly beaten boy, whose mother is in a mental hospital and whose short-fuse father is about to go bankrupt. Erlendur’s colleague Elinborg is convinced that the boy’s father is to blame for the attack, rather than the alleged perpetrators (some schoolboys), and has been trying to coax the silent child to speak out from his hospital bed. Will the boy find his voice and testify, or will the police team find his voice on his behalf, to protect him from the perpetrator, before the case collapses due to lack of evidence or witnesses?

None of the underlying themes and tensions in the book impede the pace. The story of the two crimes and their investigation are deftly handled, being believable and sad, rather than lurid and/or ultimately stretching credibility, like so many genre examples. Indriðason is masterly in the way he makes the story of each crime suspenseful yet at the same time an elegy for sad and lonely lives of most of those involved. Part of the book’s strength lies in the investigation of past emotional landscapes, which adds insight and emotion to what could otherwise, in terms of basic plot structure, be as shallowly exciting as Agatha Christie. The author (and his translator, who seems to have served him well) has written a spare, direct text, with dashes of grim humour and neat character observations, that slips by so that you have finished the book before you’ve noticed. But the voices will echo on, and you’ll be waiting keenly for the next instalment.

This review was first published at Euro Crime in March 2007 (reproduced with the permission of the site owner)

Book Details:

author: Arnaldur Indriðason (learn more at euro crimewikipedia)
original language: Icelandic
translator: Bernard Scudder
publication date (UK): August 2006

Contributor Details:

Maxine Clarke was the passionate crime fiction reader, reviewer and advocate who inspired this site.